Grigor Bekmezian announced his decision three days after the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) chose Karen Andreasian, a political ally of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, as its new chairman.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Bekmezian said that in recent months he has tried in vain to thwart “various processes damaging the independence of the Council and the judicial branch.” He complained about a lack of support from most of the other members of the judicial watchdog.
“Unfortunately, the processes of the last week, including today, have proved to me that my idea of the Supreme Judicial Council’s independence does not match that of the majority of the council’s members,” said, seemingly referring to Andreasian’s appointment.
“Having analyzed the events of the last several months as well as the past week, I have come to the conclusion that the Supreme Judicial Council is no longer the kind of a council which is envisaged by the Constitution and the Judicial Code,” added Bekmezian. He did not elaborate.
The Armenian constitution gives the SJC wide-ranging powers, including the right to nominate, sanction and even fire judges. Half of its ten members are appointed by the parliament while the five others are chosen by the country’s judges.
The previous, acting head of the SJC, Gagik Jahangirian, resigned in July amid a scandal sparked by a leaked audio of his conversation with his predecessor, Ruben Vartazarian. Jahangirian could be heard warning Vartazarian in February 2021 to quit or face criminal charges.
Vartazarian was indicted and suspended as SJC chairman in April 2021 after mounting tensions with Pashinian. He rejected the accusations as retaliation against his resistance to government pressure on courts. Bekmezian never publicly voiced support for the ousted SJC chairman.
Andreasian, who served as justice minister until October 5, took over the SJC the day after the parliament controlled by Pashinian’s Civil Contract party appointed him as a member of the body. He was affiliated with the ruling party until it nominated him for a vacant SJC seat last month.
As justice minister, Andreasian repeatedly called for a mandatory vetting of Armenian judges, an idea that prompted serious misgivings from European legal experts. In February, he stated that the SJC must fire scores of judges, including those who openly accused the Armenian authorities of seeking to curb judicial independence under the guise of Western-backed judicial reforms.
The number of disciplinary proceedings against judges initiated by the Ministry of Justice rose sharply during Andreasian’s ministerial tenure.
Andreasian’s latest appointment was condemned on Monday by the main opposition Hayastan alliance. In a statement, the bloc also slammed the ruling party for installing another senior Civil Contract figure as head of Armenia’s Central Election Commission.
“It is very disturbing that international bodies, which used to defend democratic values in our country, have not responded in any way to such instances of retreat from democracy,” read a statement released by Hayastan’s parliamentary group.